Saturday, March 17, 10:00 a.m.
Today is our "off day," with only one show booked. But it's a big one, at Barbarella near Sixth Street, Austin's main drag. Treasure MammaL was put on the bill by Josh Lambert of The Octopus Project, so the pressure's on.
Luckily, the show isn't until 5:00 p.m., giving us a chance to recover and get a group breakfast at Cherrywood Coffeehouse. I see The Onion in print edition for the first time, and we are treated to a series of pop-punk serenades, courtesy "SXSW Teen Rock Brunch."
Just another start to another day.
Spirit Animal, the band preceding us, are jock rock to the max. In a way, they're the perfect band to open for Treasure Mammal. A reminder of why Abe does what he does. While Spirit Animal tears down their equipment, Abe is led upstage to introduce his act to the lazy patio crowd.
"I think my Spirit Animal is a cheeseburger," Abe professes. "Follow us inside if you want to have some fun."
(Later, Abe admits what he really wanted to say: "'Hey, Spirit Animal. That show made me feel exactly how I felt watching 2 girls, 1 cup.' You can quote me on that in your article, Tye.")
I'm somewhat more muted on the subject, but understand Abe's competitiveness today: Barbarella may be our highest-profile show. We're prepared. Seven Mammals suit up for this performance, and busting out every prop: Shake Weights, yoga mat, gas mask, wizard's costume, creepy hooded black body suit, even (especially) the juicer.
This is another "shock 'n' awesome" show. More people than usual glue themselves to the wall, as far away from the dancing (and juicing) as possible. Abe's chant, "Fuck, Baby Jesus, I can't wait! No fuck that, I can't wait!" doesn't go over well. But out of every show this week, Barbarella's crowd flashes some of the biggest first-time smiles.
What's surprised me most this tour is how well other musicians have reacted to Treasure MammaL. Maybe they're the ones who most appreciate a surprise, an X factor, in the
music world. Love it or not, our show reaffirms that anything goes when creating art. I feel like these performances are a rallying cry for other musicians, not a diss (except for, perhaps, Spirit Animal). At the beginning of a show, it may be hard to recognize, but by the end, it seems like most people do.
We have the evening to explore, so after a visit to Switched On and drinks at Rio Rita's, the crew decides to give SXSW main street the old college try. But we lack official badge or wristband, forcing us to mostly people-watch. I catch some of White Denim's set on the Dorito's Jacked Stage with Q., but we know deep in our hearts that we can be loved and accepted for who we are. No money. No hustling. Just love.
Inevitably, Treasure MammaL returns to The Magical Forest.
"If you lost too deep in this place, for too long, you'd never be able to live in the real world again," Dan will say to me twice that night, once as we enter, and again as we exit. It strikes me as the most insightful quote all tour.
This time around, we get a full tour of the grounds, including the community meeting fire pit and a more extensive trail system than we'd imagined. Say what you want about communes - the scope and ambitions of this place are jaw-dropping.
Tonight is a keg party, and things get a little cray cray in The Magical Forest, our Treasure MammaL crew being a major culprit. Dan breaks off a branch as he climbed an impressively tall tree. Q. hits on just about every girl here--including the ones with boyfriends. Pretty sure I just bust some Christmas lights. Abe keeps trying to knock over the trampoline (which has become a lover's nest) by punting a giant medicine ball at it.
In fact, I've never seen Abe happier, which is a bad sign of things to come. Electronic drone-fuzz envelops The Magical Forest like fog; the people with the projectors never sleep.
I've stayed sober to keep my senses intact and observe this surreal human event. I'm also the only one who seems concerned that we have to drive home in 10 hours, and haven't started packing yet.
No complaints - even rounding up drunk friends is fun in The Magical Forest. We finally leave at 4:00 a.m., Q. literally sitting on the stick shift (ouch!) as I drive, all seven of us screaming along to The Cardigans.
Sunday, March 18, 8:00 a.m.
I somehow drag myself off the air mattress after three hours' sleep to take Q. to the Greyhound station. I try to get back to J.'s house without using the directions. I get lost once, but not too bad. In a way, I'm grateful for the time alone to think.
Treasure MammaL creakily awakes to pack around noon, two hours behind schedule, and gets pre-road trip coffee at Spider House. Nobody here looks not hung over. Party off, y'all.
"My stomach is not agreeing with leaving Texas," Megan says as we exit Austin city limits. "It's turning over and over again, like it's telling me, 'Don't leave! You'll like it here.'"
"Yeah, but I like going back home after trips like these," Abe says from the driver's seat, apparently in conversation with Megan's stomach. "They're motivating. I really want to get home and just push harder, push harder."
After I take over for the remaining six hours to El Paso, Abe guides me through AZ music compilation CD's and talks about his songwriting process. It's funny to think of titles like "You Wish I Was Channeling Your Spirit" having a process behind them, but Treasure MammaL songs are honed through dozens upon dozens of edits.
In the car, after SXSW, Abe Gil is reincarnated as the serious artist, high school teacher, and proud-but-unshaven father he usually is. The half of the dual identity that's buried before every Treasure MammaL show.
We stop again in Ft. Stockton, and eat at the most average Subway restaurant ever. I never expected to drive past so many windmills in Texas.
We stop at an unexpectedly 24/7 Dunkin' Donuts in El Paso, TX, to switch drivers. Everyone gets delirious and giddy from the combination of surprise, sleeplessness and sugar. And coffee. The Dunkin' Donuts employees look bored.
The tour really feels over now. No conclusions to draw, except that I'm not afraid of performing anymore (if I ever was).
Abe once described his live show to me as "more punk than punk rock." I tend to agree. Crowd reactions run the gamut from genuine disgust to genuine respect to genuine fear to genuine bliss.
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Most important is that the crowd genuinely reacts to Treasure MammaL. They won't forget this show by next week. The audience has to think about what they just experienced/were grinded on by.
This trip didn't redefine musicians for me, just gave me a new appreciation for the definition I had before: Someone who works honestly and hard at his/her music. SXSW is a celebration of this hard work, whether Austinites like it or not.
I'm behind on everything. I haven't eaten or slept enough in a week. I am ready (desperate, even) to rejoin the real world. Then again, I'm also counting down the days until next tour...